82 Human reallocation 9 Oct 2020
An amused hayseed watched the automated orange juice machine slice and squeeze his orange for him. He was less amused when the cup stuck in the chute and failed to catch the juice. In his old farmer drawl he exclaimed, “the durn thing even drinks it fer ya.” It was too much automation for him!
Let’s leave behind the corny jokes and concentrate on the opening of article 81, an infantile desire to receive every needful thing from the world. One professor told us that the first requirement of a good physicist is to be lazy—our work is always to make life easier. We are never completely beyond that desire. There is always a willingness to have more or do less—or both. Because humans are dependent creatures, survival means to receive from the environment. Suddenly the discussion is serious.
Creativity leads us to engineering and automation, a reordering of tasks reducing labor and increasing output. Efficiency yields more production per person. That results in increased consumption or reduced labor. There are books and courses devoted to meeting human needs using a four-hour work week.
Dwelling momentarily on a four-hour work week we can imagine one-tenth of the people working forty-hour weeks and supporting a leisure class, or all of the people working thirty-six hours per week at something other than bare survival. Contemporary society contains a mix of the possibilities. My history class traced many intellectual landmarks to an Athenian leisure class. In America we prefer to elevate every worker into a part-time leisure class; we value democratic participation in progress.
For example, having very few farmers can feed very many people. The distribution chain takes additional manpower, occupying some of the non-full-time-farmers. In a stable population, having very few builders can achieve enough durable housing for very many people. We can move down the list of needs to spot the efficiencies technology has brought us. This process repeats all the way down the list.
In our social contract we specialize to fulfill the above aims. Professionals produce much more efficiently than untrained novices. Shared talents increase production and reduce workload. Since almost all of us choose to work beyond the amount needed for minimum survival, standard of living rises.
Note on equality
I have insisted that we must meet all humans’ needs (article 27, FISH) equally for all people. Can that be satisfied by the four-hour work week? Will it suffice to provide food, shelter, etc. all the way down the list? If we leave off fighting each other, this seems realistic.
I have named the humans’ needs that are sufficient for happiness. Serious lack of any one of them leads to sickness; being well is happiness. (Remember, they include the spiritual aspects of occupation and self-worth.) If we meet them with four hours of labor per person per week, the other thirty-six (for some people seventy-six) work hours per week are left for creativity. We will be all over the charts in that territory. Unique individuality does prevail!
In the nuclear family, members sacrifice a lot of individuality for the common good (article 71, blending the actors into a unitary organism). Immigrants throughout US history are noted for bunching up in crowded quarters and sharing scarce resources to establish a footing. Primitive hunter-gatherer societies involve all the individuals in focused tasks that must be performed together to assure survival. What goes beyond mere survival introduces society’s behavior problems. When there are options, greed shows up uninvited.
I honor an economic system not based on greed. Instead of cursing the darkness of selfishness, I light the candle of intelligent organization. Let us construct a thought outline to serve us better than profit motive.
The stories above praise efficient production. There is another form of discipline: efficient consumption. In article 74 I pointed out that my needs are met by frugality. I have enough of the needs because I forgo the wants. That, I pointed out, curtails the income of the hospitality industry. Am I less than patriotic because I don’t spend money?
To me restaurant meals are unnecessary frivolity. Buying them would take my business away from those who sell necessities. We must organize the economy differently to have a hospitality industry. We will look to those other thirty-six hours per week. Mine are spent paying for my children’s education. Somebody else would spend them on hospitality.
There is another kind of frugality that is introduced by obsolescence. When I was quite young, railroads were faced with laying off firemen when the trains no longer needed a person to shovel coal into the burner. Keeping those workers as free riders in the cabin was called featherbedding. Sitting there uselessly idle seems like a threat to mental health. Preserving meaningful jobs is praiseworthy. The formerly useful firemen must be retrained to fulfill their need to be needed (article 15).
Later in life, almost at the end of my legal career, I attended professionalism training at the Illinois bar. The program for the day was delivery of legal services to the entire population, with emphasis on people of limited means. I did pro bono work and felt spiritually refreshed. The following year the program dealt with a featherbedding issue instead. Electronic and technological advances had so much increased lawyer efficiency that the large firms could not keep all their lawyers occupied with meaningful caseloads. The training discussed working out intermediate-scale billing arrangements with clients so that the lawyers could be kept on staff. That sickened me and hastened my retirement, and I expressed my disgust to the bar. I pointed out that we had just the year before studied the extreme scarcity of legal services, and this time had considered the talent glut at the high-price end. That world was morally questionable and terribly out of balance. Greed arrived uninvited.
I am leaving out a long list of greedy business and professional marketing practices that stoke discontent to create pain points that are addressed by products to be sold.
Article 73 about intelligence over obstacles used crows to illustrate helping others. Article 74 sought usefulness for throw-away people. Here I am always reminding readers of the joy of caring for each other—even ahead of caring for self—because when the pieces fit together, that is the best way we care for ourselves.
Change brings problems. Progress makes the old obsolete. We combine changes to preserve happiness. An elderly former landlord said to me, “Times are changing, and we have to change with them.” His positive attitude made him a kindly, cheerful person. He was able to see change as opportunity.
Not letting go of the hospitality workers I love, my thoughts run to the places where they can carry on their profession. I would love to see high-rise residences having many dining areas of different natures. Some rooms would accommodate family meals; others would be larger social spaces like most restaurants; others would serve special needs. My goal would be to allow family meals but relieve individual families from food preparation. This is my model of the efficiency and the benefit of specialization. Those who love food preparation would be fully occupied and those who do not would be relieved.
There is no pleasure in sending coal miners to early graves because we cannot retrain them. Everybody learns to change with the times, and miners are as likely as others to agree to safer work. Meanwhile the renewable energy field is burgeoning and beckoning workers. Getting out of the rut that worked in the past vastly improves the future. We are lazy if we refuse to update. Robotics and electronics are other areas that eliminate dull routine jobs while opening interesting new ones.
Often, I am dismayed that school systems graduate people who do not know general home economics including housekeeping and nutrition. Students launch into adult life without fundamental knowledge that most of us acquire in the home. Where that learning has not happened, social workers are appropriate teachers while prison guards are not. The need for this kind of in-home education appears insatiable. In the agricultural valley where I spent my youth, we had ample extension service workers who educated farmers and businesspeople to perform their jobs better. From the mundane to the complicated, education was available to meet real needs.
Article 36 and article 37 called us to think brand new thoughts and reinvent the market economy to make our lives better, using the overall market (macro level) to eliminate individual suffering (micro level) in times of great change. Today’s stories continue that call to action. As the times change, we must focus our attention and training on preventing human obsolescence. Some inventors put astronauts on the moon. Others must put displaced workers into useful occupations appropriate to maintaining lifetime happiness. We accept this as our duty to each other throughout the human family. We are a unitary organism.
Cover email: Place for the throw-away people
I’m still worrying about the hospitality workers I don’t patronize … and the “obsolete” employees … and the aging workers … and the downsized ….
We are part of a huge economy that can find a place for every person, and it is up to us to see that it does. Let’s eliminate “not needed” status for good!